As the old saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” I can think of no truer words when reflecting on nearly 40 years in the architecture and engineering industry – that for all the transitions and transformations, the foundations are still as strong as ever.
What has changed
- Technology–enabled productivity: The most significant change that I’ve watched unfold during my time in the industry has been the incredible advancements in technology, which has led to staggering increases in productivity. Work that I did in the mid-1980’s as an engineering intern to develop horizontal and vertical geometries, cross-sections and earthwork quantities for highway projects which took months to develop can be generated in several hours using current CADD technologies.
- Regulatory complexity: The progression of the technology that we use to complete work on our end also has contributed to an increase in the scope and breadth of project permitting and related regulations. The growing complexity has presented its own set of challenges, but ultimately helps us better understand the potential impacts of our projects on the environment and socio-economic systems and the health, safety and welfare of the public at large. Electronic permitting has been developed to streamline some of the administrative elements for permits, but unfortunately, permit review and approval timeframes often continue to be unpredictable and remain a major source of schedule uncertainty today as in the past. Some things never (or are slow to) change.
- Agile workforce: Career preparation also is at a much higher level than the first years of my career. More than ever, the industry and institutions of higher learning are partnering on things like internships and mentoring, and great emphasis is placed on team- and project-based learning, which means that those entering the workforce today are well-equipped to work with technology in collaborative, team-oriented environments. Today’s architecture and engineering workforce is more agile and productive than when I began my career – improvements that can only help us grow and succeed.
- Diversity and inclusion: In recent years, it is evident that diversity is playing a bigger role in workforce development activities around STEM and related industry careers, as well as in company hiring practices, to leverage the benefits of diverse perspectives in the workplace. The numbers of women and minorities in the workplace has increased dramatically in the 30-plus years that I’ve worked in this field, although continuing to push for even higher numbers and greater involvement should remain a priority.
What has stayed the same
Not everything has to change. I’ve been blessed over my career to work for and with many great industry and community leaders, and I’d consider the following to be key principles that have remained relevant over the nearly four decades that I’ve been involved in engineering:
- Ethics and moral compass: Part of what attracted me to engineering was the fact that it is a profession with a higher calling – to hold paramount the health, safety and welfare of the public. The most effective leaders have always understood and upheld this ethical responsibility and maintain a moral compass that always keeps them focused on doing the right thing, no matter what.
- Vision and values: Create a vision and purpose that can be achieved through commitment to a set of core values, prompting consistent behaviors that ultimately define the culture of your organization.
- Plan, execute, reflect and learn: Leaders understand that you should plan before you execute, and with the appropriate amount of humility, understand that your plan may not be perfect. It allows us to reflect on mistakes, to learn from them, and to course-correct the plan. The leaders that have patiently allowed me to make mistakes and learn from them have had more impact on my personal growth and development as a leader than the sum total of all the formal education that I’ve had over the course of my career.
- Communicate with intent: Great communicators listen more than they talk and ask great questions; and when they do talk, they are intentional and thoughtful in the way they’ve delivered their messages in order to create clarity, rather than noise in their organization.
- Perspective: The most effective leaders have always practiced humility, surrounded themselves with smart people, and have consistently bounced important decisions off others with diverse and/or independent perspectives to test their own thinking before acting.
I’ve enjoyed a great career – learning, growing personally and professionally, and working collaboratively to produce many projects that have benefitted society. And it’s been a pleasure to share what I’ve learned from those efforts with others who seek to develop their full potential as professionals and leaders.